Lin Dai and Michael Howard, co-founders of Kiwibox

Tell us a few words about yourself and your professional background? What were you engaged with before starting the kiwibox project?

 Lin Dai and Michael Howard co-founded Kiwibox in 1999 while they were both studying at Carnegie Mellon University’s Business School. Since then they have been involved in a number of projects that have contributed to their overall knowledge of online media and entertainment.  Lin has been involved in several offline entertainment projects, including management and promotion for major label recording artists, as well as casting and talent development for major TV networks.  Mike has extensive experience consulting and advising major advertising agencies on projects during the same time period.

How did you come up with the idea to create a social networking site for teenagers? Would you provide us with a short description of the website?

Despite being early adopters in the social networking world, teenagers are still a very underserved demographic, with most major players shifting their focus to an older and more business oriented consumers. There are an estimated 1.4 billion global Internet users, and the number of social networks available to them is staggering.  With all of these options presented to teenagers, it’s easy to feel lost in the shuffle.  We wanted to provide teens with a place designed specifically for them where they could actually contribute in a meaningful way.

Kiwibox is really unlike any other offering out there. It’s the first social networking destination and online magazine where teens produce, discover, and share content while connecting with friends. The site is designed to entertain and inform teens about the latest in fashion, celebrity news, music, movies and anything else relevant to their daily lives.  A teen can connect with their friends and participate in games and contests for cool prizes, something unique to social networking.  With videos and original content from across the world, each visit to Kiwibox is a different and exciting experience.

What makes distinguishable amongst the other social networks? What kind of strategy do you use to separate yourself from your competitors?

Kiwibox is unique because of its model of combining content and social networking.  When you visit other social networking sites, you may be able to share some limited content such as your blog or photos with your immediate friends, but you lack the ability to reach anyone outside your network.  Kiwibox gives more power to the teens who participate on the site. Teens can contribute content in the form of writing, photos, posts, videos and more.  These submissions are then edited by other teens and eventually published for the entire membership base to see and interact with.  So teens are not limited in sharing their opinions with just their friends, but they are able to share their content with millions of other teens. They discuss and connect with each other based on issues that are relevant to them.  This is something you cannot do effectively on any other traditional social networks.  We’ve had tremendous feedback from teens who really appreciate the control we’re giving them in this process. offers different contests which provide your regulars with the possibility to gather points and win awards. Are these incentives a good marketing tool to create a community of followers?

Teens as a group respond very well to the contests and rewards.  By leveraging our decade long relationships with major record labels, movie studios and game companies, we can offer teens exciting opportunities to connect to their favorite entertainment sources by winning prizes exclusive to the Kiwibox community.  They also have the ability to earn points and prizes on a daily basis by simply performing their normal social networking activities.  They are being rewarded for participating and developing the site, which is something they normally don’t get on most other social networks.  The points they earn can be traded in for real world prizes such as iPod and Nintendo Wii’s, this type of offering is also very rare amongst our competitors. We’ve found this to be a very effective marketing tool to keep our teens entertained and coming back each day.

Have you recently launched new products?

We’ve actually just launched Kiwibox 2.0 and completely revamped our interface by improving the look and feel of the site for our teen users.  Some of the new features we’ve added include profiles that are easier to customize, and widgets that can aggregate their presence from other social media sites like Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. The new KiwiboxTV section is a dedicated video section that showcases exclusive Kiwibox video content hosted by teen Video Journalists. We’ve also doubled the number of games available to teens through our KiwiGames section and are planning on some exciting contests to follow soon.  Kiwibox 2.0 also has improved daily and around the clock entertainment and news content, which compliments the weekly online magazine.  All of these exciting new features can be found online as well as on our mobile WAP site, optimized for over 100 different handsets.

What are your plans and ambitions for How do you see it evolving over the next five years?

It’s a very interesting time right now in the market.  There are a tremendous amount of sites figuring out how to monetize their offerings and expand to become more successful.  Users are also starting to show signs of social networking fatigue.  The days of social networking for the sake of “collecting” friends online are numbered.  People will be looking for ways to connect with each other online on a deeper level.  We’re in a great position because of our unique and relevant content that we bring to the table, as well as our dedication to the teen demographic.  Over the next five years, we see the internet converging more to a more specified environment of similar interests.  So instead of massive online communities, we’ll see niche social networks like Kiwibox leading the market. While most users in the social networking realm will continue to maintain a profile on one of the generic social networks such as Myspace or Facebook, they will also turn to these more targeted social networks like Kiwibox to receive more specialized content and meet others with similar interests. 

Presently social networking is one of the most popular online activities. It brings the unique ability of allowing users to interact with each other as if they share the same room. How big is it? How many teenagers join and communicate on your social network on a daily basis?

Tens of thousands of teens visit Kiwibox on a daily basis to connect and network with each other.  They actively share content and photos, post comments and leave KiwiNotes, and recommend interesting content they find on Kiwibox.  They also actively participate in contributing to the overall community and help each other through KiwiJobs, which give them the ability to write, peer edit, give peer advice, monitor and help new members. Basically teens are empowered to work together with other teens to create a safe and vibrant community on Kiwibox.

How would you explain the huge interest in social networks?

Social networks have such a massive appeal because people want to feel like they are part of a community. On its most basic level, social networks are all about building and maintaining relationships.  You may be able to meet and connect with people that you otherwise couldn’t in the offline world, without the social constraint or fear that may exist in real world interactions.  People are more free to be who they truly are, or aspire to be.  Social networks allow people to express themselves amongst groups of like minded people, and we improve this experience further by allowing our members to identify other people with similar interest through the content they share. That’s why Kiwibox is so successful.

What do you think are the biggest myths about social networks?

The biggest myth about social networks is that they are a distraction.  There have been negative connotations made in the media about people using social networks as a means of escape or diversion of daily life.  If anything, it’s the complete opposite.  Social networks are an embracement of daily life.  It’s a place where you can connect with old friends while making new ones. They are meeting places where information is exchanged and ideas are expressed and advanced.

You’ve been very successful in promoting your site to the targeted audience of 13-19 year-olds. This is a very difficult audience to promote to, but your company has done it effectively. Could you share with PromotionWorld’s readers some of the strategies and tactics that you apply?

We’re able to effectively target the teen demographic by empowering them.  Teens are a huge part of why our site is successful because they contribute the majority of its content. Teens are very opinionated and they contribute the content that’s most relevant to their everyday life, through submitting news, pictures, videos, and participate in games and contests, teens are able to create and mold Kiwibox’s content to fit their exact interest and preference.  This gives us a huge advantage because we will never be outdated as long as teens are the ones creating content for their peers. By offering them opportunities such as KiwiJobs, teens feel a true sense of ownership and are dedicated to make Kiwibox the best possible site.  By employing this tactic, teens have formed a welcoming environment where all teens can appreciate because it was created with them in mind.